Years before Ireland’s current asylum woes and immigration protests, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that it was “elitist” and “wrong” to “dismiss” people’s real concerns about mass migration and globalisation.
The comments were made on the 11th of July 2018, during a Dáil discussion on the rise of rightwing parties in Europe, such as Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party in Hungary.
“Reference was made to reflecting and understanding people’s views,” said Varadkar.
“I am not so much interested in the views of politicians, but I am interested in the views of people who vote for politicians.”
Varadkar said that he “often” wondered why people were attracted to insurgent political movements, like the Trump phenomenon in America, or Brexit in the UK.
“I often wonder why Hungarian people or people in eastern European countries vote for the politicians they do,” he said.
“I often wonder why people vote for Trump, why people voted for Brexit and why people voted for populist parties of the left, like Syriza, in Greece, or populist parties of the right throughout western Europe.”
However, he explained that such movements get off the ground due to “real concerns” from ordinary citizens.
“Genuine people, real people, have real concerns,” he said.
“People have concerns about globalisation and migration. They have concerns about inequality of economic opportunity. I believe it is wrong for us to dismiss people’s concerns.”
He added: “Dismissing concerns or treating people who vote in a certain way with disrespect – we have seen that from people so many times – is the wrong approach.”
Varadkar said that when there is a disagreement in society, the solution is to try to understand what is motivating people.
“When we do not agree with people we should, at least in our own heads, try to understand why they have the views they have,” he said.
“That is the best way we can change them. If we want to change the views of others, we need to try to understand what they think and then convince them otherwise.”
He also cautioned against “dismissing” such views, saying that to do so would be “elitist.”
“We should not swat them away and dismiss them in an elitist fashion,” he said.
“If we do, what happens is that they vote in the way they do.”
In the past year, Ireland has experienced significant and sustained protests in opposition to large numbers of asylum seekers entering the country, with numerous politicians from government parties condemning the demonstrations in strong terms.
Last November, in the context of a discussion on the East Wall protests, Fine Gael Junior Minister James Brown said that anyone “peddling hate and racism” would be targeted by “hate legislation.”
In February of this year in the Dáil, Varadkar insinuated that those linking migration to societal problems like the house crisis were “far-right” and “racist.”
“Racists and the far right will blame whatever problem the country is facing on migrants,” he said at the time.
“That’s the way it works. That’s the way they think. If we have a housing crisis, it’ll be, ‘the foreigners are taking our homes’. If we have an unemployment crisis, it will be ‘the foreigners are taking our jobs’.
“If we’ve got high levels of crime, they’ll blame the foreigners for the high levels of crime.”
He added: “It’s housing now, it could just as easily be unemployment, it could just as easily be crime.”